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Doubling the Horn

Charmed Life - page 2

Globetrotting yacht "Radiant Star"Buchan abeam of the Horn on an unusually mild day.Providence was subsequently kind to both of them, it seems. Only a few months ago, I sat with an older but still steadfastly buoyant Buchan in Radiant Star’s now gorgeous, Herreshoff-style saloon (once the hold that featured the bins of fish and ice, by the way) as the fabled rains of the Pacific Northwest beat a soft tattoo upon the decks above. I’d come to Anacortes to discuss the wonderful old vessel, her voyage around the Horn, and her adventures afterwards. Our conversation had been a lively one thus far, somehow delivering us to one of the grand old questions of passagemaking—is a single-engine powerboat truly safe for crossing oceans?

“Well, I’ll grant you,” Buchan said, harking back, “when I first saw the last bit of land disappear behind us, I was a bit concerned—all we had for power was our old 230-hp Gardner 8L3B diesel. What if it quit?”

Radiant Star in a picturesque glacial anchorage in ChileTwo factors kept confidence levels high, however. First, the Gardner’s reputation for reliability was radical, explained Buchan. Fishing-boat diesels like Radiant Star’s endured punishing regimes. They were typically cranked up on Monday mornings, run steadily throughout the ensuing week, night and day, finally shut down on Saturday afternoon (so crews could attend church services ashore on Sunday), and then simply cranked up all over again on the following Monday for another weekly cycle. “And this would go on for years,” Buchan added. “Decades even. Very dependable—the old Gardners.”

The second factor had more of a hands-on quality. Because the 8L3B was such a low-rpm engine, developing just 1200 rpm at wide-open throttle, Buchan said he was able to idle it down to a virtual crawl each day at noon during Radiant Star’s successive passages, pull the dipstick, and add oil if needed. “The process wasn’t as precise as it might have been with the engine stopped,” he asserted, “but it was comforting and useful. I checked the transmission the same way each day as a matter of fact.”

Useful indeed. On her way to what would be her home port for many ensuing decades, Radiant Star actually doubled the Horn, an archaic, albeit decidedly bold, practice that harks back to the days of wooden ships and iron men. More particularly, she crossed the 50th parallel twice, first to the east of the Cape and then to the west, without ever once ducking into one of the comparatively protected anchorages along the way to avoid bad weather. “The only real difficulty we encountered came a few days after the Cape, in the Straits of Magellan,” explained Buchan, “We took green water on deck there. Saw the bow go under altogether a few times. But otherwise, we simply kept on going, never missing a beat.”